Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Alternate Realities

Sometimes I feel like I wasted my twenties. In high school and into college I had serious aspirations of writing and publishing. I majored in English, got a master's in creative writing, won contests, published in small literary journals, briefly considered moving to New York and doing an editing internship just to get a foot in the door of the publishing world, but somewhere along the way I got sidetracked by real life. I married young--a woman, because that's what my church told me was the only viable option--and we started a family not long after that. With a wife and kids to support, practical concerns took precedence over lofty dreams. I needed a real job that paid real money, so I went back to school to get a more practical degree, and then I landed in my current job. It's a great job that pays well, treats me well, gives me the flexibility to be actively involved in parenting my kids, and I'm very good at what I do. For the most part, I enjoy the job--the work we do is interesting, and I love the people I work with. And yet here I am, 37, just barely trying to launch a writing career that I put on hold more than a decade ago. Isn't this what I told myself I'd do in my twenties?

The reality is that very few people have a writing career. Many people write, a few publish, and a very small fraction of those people make enough money to call it a career. For most, writing is a hobby, at most a side job. The frustrating thing for me now is that my husband makes more than enough to support us; in an alternate reality where I married him first, maybe I'd be a stay-at-home dad who writes while the kids are at school, and any publishing success I have would be extra income, not essential. Maybe I would have gotten a jump-start on my writing career ten years ago if I hadn't felt the need to be the family's bread-winner. But in this reality, I did feel that need ten years ago, and now my husband and I both have ex-wives and kids to support, which means both our incomes are essential.

Another part of me recognizes this is all first-world, upper-middle class, white male privileged whining. Many, many couples both work multiple jobs just to support their single family household, leaving little time for a hobby that maybe one day could possibly turn into secondary income. Many, many women put their dreams on hold in order to raise a family, and end up starting their career of choice ten, fifteen, or twenty years later than their male counterparts. To the extent that I can as a man, I identify with those women who felt pressured to fill a role that perhaps wasn't exactly what they would have wanted for themselves.

At the same time, I also identify with those women who are grateful for the good that has come from their choices, whether or not they would make those same choices again. I love my kids; in that alternate reality where I married a man the first time, I have no doubt that we would have had kids and loved them just as much, but we wouldn't have had these kids. I am grateful for ten years of memories with a great friend who continues to be a wonderful mother to our children. I am lucky to have the job I do, with all its benefits, financial and otherwise. And I'm privileged to be in a place now where I can focus on my writing again, even if it's just a stolen hour here and there--it's more than many have. So I'll give myself a minute to mourn lost opportunities and imaginary alternate realities, then plant myself firmly in the pretty fantastic reality I've got, and forge ahead.

No comments:

Post a Comment